The Importance Of Having A Cultural Identity Anywhere

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Hi Guys and how are you doing? Cool weather is in full swing these days in California along with heavy smoke in many regions. My heart goes out to families affected by the recent California fires near Malibu. It is devastating to see and hear the number of lives lost and the level of wildlife destruction. Please donate (See HERE) to give relief to all those affected in the area. It is at trying moments like these I think how blessed I am to call two countries my home. Pakistan and the United States have given me a lifetime of experiences for which I will be forever grateful. At difficult times like the recent California fire, I realize how close-knit our communities are and even if I am not affected directly by the recent fires, I feel hurt because I care. These are the cultural identities that make my foundation.

What Is A Cohesive Cultural Identity?

It is so important that people from different nations work hard to retain and preserve their cultural identity in this recent period of globalization. Growing up in Pakistan, I had very similar experiences with diverse people (including immigrants) as children growing up in the United States today. And if you have been reading my posts this year, you can understand (or sympathize) how difficult it is to stay true to one’s cultural identity when the country becomes a “melting pot” and being pulled in million directions. A country’s cultural identity has a lot more to do with the “arts” than the ethnicity and races of its inhabitants. Speaking from Pakistan’s perspective, I know we value handcrafts (paintings, sculptures, pottery), embroideries, and fashion inspired from the Mughal period and indigenous settlements made during the Mughal period over what groups are living within the border. Few people are aware that during the prosperous Mughal period, nomads as far as Africa and Spain (I am thinking the Moors) came to live in what is called the Sindh region of Pakistan. Those native to the Punjab region have an entirely different cultural identity showing outside “breeding”, which makes sense since the vast Mughal empire was in the “central region” of South Asia.  Languages (including dialects), dances, Islam and other religions practiced by smaller communities all make Pakistan a vibrant post-globalized country.

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Modern English Culture

I have been eyeing Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton since the beginning and am quite impressed with them over certain matters. They are so much more than making the British Royal Family more relatable. They are truly embodying British Culture and making it relatable to the global people of today. Historical British Empire with all its pomp and glamour has inspired traditions worldwide for centuries. Queen Victoria started the white wedding dress tradition that almost all Christian and Jewish brides adhere to for their wedding day. Then King Albert and Queen Victoria made holly, the Christmas tree, and wreaths a decor phenomenon that has been carried on for generations. Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle have made fashion (especially British fashion) a forerunner in the global fashion industry again. We follow everything from what pumps they wear, and how tailored their clothes are to what fascinators or jewelry they wear for which occasion. I can tell they are big on symbolism, which I know, is pertinent in early British Literature.

The Difficulty Of Creating A Cultural Identity

Non-religious traditions are very much derived from what I call post-Galileo monarchies. Galileo started a movement that forever changed the face of monarchy as a form of government. As religions, fashion, arts, and language took a back seat, education emerged as an important part of any culture. While I can think of only a handful of post- Galileo monarchies (The French Colonial Empire, British Empire, and Mughal Empire. For more information, See HERE), I know there are many others empires from continental Asia whose traditions impact us today. On a side note, American politicians will be very interested in learning something that screwed Pakistanis in the 1980’s in a big way HERE. Thumbs up!

While Pakistanis in the 1980’s were forming its national cultural identity in a post-colonial era and dealing with the modern phenomena now known as globalization, we were also trying to teach people about who were are as Muslims. To appease Hindus, who follow a Zoroastrian-based religion, we had 2 options – either tell them to leave while the world (and by that I mean Americans) was watching or suck it up and help them assimilate to our still new Islamic country. Weddings (See HERE) were one of the first cultural aspects we chose to invite them into.

There is this one night in Lahore I remember when I went to a bazaar with a young teenage girl, now known as Aishwarya Rai because she had no clue what it was. This bazaar was so special because it was said to be the only cultural remnant of the bygone Mughal and Nawabi era (For visuals, See HERE). I showed her everything from fabric stalls to Sufis singing qawwalis to women lighting dias for seemingly no apparent reason and gently putting them in the river water. I remember there being roses and jasmine as well because the whole bazaar smelled so sweet. We tried on churiyaans ate sweets like Gulab Jaman for free because neither of us had the brains to bring money. I didn’t realize it was so late and my family was worried. It wasn’t until the moon was high that my cousins’ older friends came looking for us. Aishwarya ran away because she was mad and scared and started a crazy rumor (because she was so scared) in school. That night was one of the last moments with her.

Another fun anecdote that my grandmothers told me was that the Mughal empire was so prosperous that his advisors would tell Emperor Akhbar to stop creating so much beauty because he was stirring jealousy. While he disagreed with everything, he did say he will pick three flowers only and decorate the entire empire with their motifs. He picked the rose (gulab), the jasmine flower (motia), and marigold (chameli). And even today, the Mughal Empire and its traditions are associated with them.

Pakistani Wedding Traditions

Simple traditions were always part of a Pakistani wedding. Some of the original ones which my grandmother said she started during her wedding in India was Kheer Chitai, Doodh Palaui, Doola Rokhai, and Moon Dikhai. These wedding traditions were just to make her wedding events fun and carry no Islamic value. She didn’t specify on what occasions she had these traditions take place either. However, in addition to the traditions above, there were “religious” traditions in our family such as writing a Quranic verse on the bride’s forehead and the groom reading namaz in front of the entire family with his bride sitting next to him the first night she is brought to her new home.

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Since the concept of a “Mehndi event” was literally created in Pakistan in the 1980’s my youngest aunt made her mehndi one of the ages. She had choreographed dances in addition to song competitions with dholak (a tradition from the 1970’s). Since my grandmother was so big on traditions, my aunt was excited enough to create the Mehndi ki Rasam (not ubtan, which is completely a Hindu tradition). Depending on how important traditions are in your family, you can incorporate these ideas as you please.

For etymology enthusiasts, the Urdu word for traditions is “Tehvar“, a Persian word. Hindus call traditions “Rasams”. Other words that have Turkish roots in Urdu are bawarchi, Maharani, Maharaja

New Wedding Traditions

I remember the wedding season in Pakistan was from late November to January because Pakistan gets so hot the rest of the year. The concept of holding wedding events after Ramadan or not holding events during the month of Muharram are completely bogus. Weddings held in other months are probably non-Muslim, which is completely fine by all Muslims living in Pakistan. There is no concept of seasonal savings in Pakistan. If you do not believe me, you will be surprised to know that the concept of having “sales” is very 21st century in Pakistan. The rest of the year Pakistan is all about cultural events.

I know people are curious, why I chose to include Mehndi under one section and omit it from another section on this post (See HERE). It was purely for practical reasons. With separate mayoun, multiple dholkis, mehndi, shaadi, and valima dinner-and-dancing themes, each event holds no significance to anyone, but cost ALOT. Don’t forget there are separate milad and a separate nikkah as well. And now brides have started incorporating foreign customs like bridal showers. Not unless you plan on a lifestyle consisting of not traveling nor eating outside, this type of wedding procession makes no sense to me.

An ideal wedding that suits a variety of budgets should consist of a grand dholki/mayoun/mehndi and maybe a separate nikkah or a grand Nikkah/Shaadi, & a grand Valima. When I have my wedding, iA, I will budget this way and I know my guests will thank me.

Working Women In Pakistan

Most people don’t understand that many Pakistani women work – before and after children. Like any woman, they evolve their lifestyle according to their personal and familial needs. I have complained before (For Example, See HERE) that the conveyor belt collections many Pakistani designers and brands send out spins the Pakistani fashion industry in a tizzy. The quality is good but, promotes confusion and fast fashion aka wastage.  

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If I was living in Pakistan and tired of ads and billboards of upcoming exhibitions and new collections coming out, I would help myself out by categorizing my wardrobe and the holes in it into the following categories:

  • Work Attire: This attire will consist of conservative clothes. Your standard 3-piece lawn suit or any outfit from Studio S.’s “Boss Lady” (See HERE) is perfect for daily work wear and for days filled with important meetings.  
  • Shopping Attire (For Evenings & Weekends): I know shopping is a big attraction for Pakistanis, especially Karachiites. Here, I would again look for comfort. However, I feel I can wear floral and colorful clothes such as collections from ZAHA
  • Athleisure: I am unaware of any athleisure brands in Pakistan, but I am sure Pakistani women can shop online and afford to pay for international shipping otherwise. I am sorry, but I cannot be more helpful than that.  
  • Formal Attire For Parties or Weddings: There is a wide range of formal wear in Pakistan. From 3-piece silk suits (See HERE, and HERE) to festive wear (See HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Bridal Wear: This category strictly for brides. Here, you can choose according to your budget and style ethos (See HERE, HERE, and HERE). Remember these bridal dresses can be worn again so think of your wedding vision and the future.

There many aspects of Pakistan’s cultural identity. I shed light on two heavily – weddings and daily life. In the future, I hope to reveal more.